After stunning first-round exit last season, Detroit will sweep Nashville
Posted: Wednesday April 7, 2004 6:07PM; Updated: Wednesday April 7, 2004 7:16PM
No. 1Detroit vs. No. 8Nashville
Nashville has some spunk and a good goalkeeper, but Detroit, a team with enough Hall of Fame players to command a wing of its own in Toronto, is strong everywhere on the ice. If the Predators could just steal a win, say, in their first-ever home playoff game this Sunday, that would be enough to get Nashville croonin'.
From old Brett Hull (100 career playoff goals) to young imp Pavel Datsyuk (team-high 30 goals) the Red Wings have a deep, loaded group. They've got lots of skill (Robert Lang, for one) and lots of experience (Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan). Nashville's hard-working cast includes breakout winger Scott Walker and nifty Steve Sullivan, who was acquired at the trade deadline.
Again, the Wings are packed with talent here. Ferocious Derian Hatcher is rounding into form (he was out with a knee injury early this season) and joins perennial All-Star Nicklas Lidstrom and the suddenly focused Mathieu Schneider. The Predators group is young, and exploitable.
As Nashville fought to make the playoffs down the stretch, Tomas Vokoun (34 regular-season wins) got a taste of pressure hockey. He's ready. With veteran Curtis Joseph (ankle) still sidelined, the Wings will go with career backup Manny Legace, who played surprisingly well when thrust into a starting position this year.
The Red Wings have several dangerous combinations on the power play, and their penalty kill (best in the league this season) is active enough to neutralize Nashville defenseman Marek Zidlicky, who runs the Predators power play from the point. Watch for the Wings' Kris Draper to pot a shorthanded goal before this series is through.
Barry Trotz, who has coached every game the 6-year-old Predators have played, gets the most of out of his players. Detroit's Dave Lewis, in his second season as head coach after apprenticing as an assistant under Scotty Bowman, has the savvy Barry "Left wing lock" Smith to help him.
The long battle to make the playoffs may take a toll on Nashville as the series wears on. Detroit plans to erase the lingering memory of last year's first-round ousting (in four straight!) to the surprising Mighty Ducks.
The Red Wings are too deep and too good to be derailed. They'll sweep.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Kostya Kennedy takes sides each week at SI.com.